or Looking for the Best Mule

“He drives a ’57 GMC pick-up truck.   It’s got a gun rack and a ‘Goat Ropers Need Love, too!’ sticker.”

~”Redneck Mother” by Jerry Jeff Walker

So, you’ve got the dream figured out, you’ve found the land, and heck you just signed the papers saying that after a few years of payments it will be yours.  That’s when it hits you.  I’m an I.T. guy from the inner city and drive a four-cylinder, four-door, tomato can.  I’ve got to clear land, then build a house, outbuildings, and pens for animals, yada, yada.  You even start hearing clicking noises, while your heart rate quickens.  RELAX!

If you’re like most homesteaders you have bought a small piece of acreage between two and five acres in size.  You intend to keep small livestock, not large animals, and you intend to garden.  In short you are about to become a Goat Roper.  You don’t hear that term much anymore.  But, roughly translated, Goat Roper was a derogatory term, used by big cattle barons, much like sodbuster.  Here’s your chance, like Jerry Jeff, to turn a put-down into a badge of honor.

I used to work with a cantankerous tool and die maker named Grady.  While he was particularly good at the use of profanity, he would also impart wisdom that, while at the time, seemed illogical, but upon contemplation, was highly useful.

Grady had a saying, “You’ve got to have a #@%& plan.  Once you get started, the &^%! plan can go out the window, but to get started, you’ve got to have a %$#@! plan.”  Ok, you’ve done some planning; now take it one step further.  In order to do everything else, you are going to have to be able to move equipment and materials from town to your homestead.

Let me introduce you to the friend of homesteaders for years, not to mention lonesome cowboys.  The humble half-ton pick-up truck—what could be the most important piece of equipment on your homestead.  What makes it so versatile you ask?  It’s probably not the reason that you think, but more on that later.  Back to the plan…

Let me start with a few general statements based on my experience with the trucks I’ve owned over the years.  I’ve owned everything from a compact Nissan XE pick-up to a one-ton Ford crew-cab and, like everything else; there are positives and negatives with each of them.

The small Nissan was great for its fuel economy and its ability to go places off the trail that would astound you.  I could put it anywhere that an ATV could go.  Its drawback was that it couldn’t carry much payload, and with it’s short bed, a trip to the lumber yard meant hitching a trailer or coming up with some rather precarious ways to transport eight-foot lengths of lumber.

The large Ford was good for its ability to haul anything I asked of it, literally.  The four-door cab made it good for hauling help, they couldn’t escape by saying, “Oh you don’t have enough room.” Its drawback was fuel economy, granted it was a gasoline powered truck, and a diesel would have done better.  I have a reason that I don’t prefer diesels that I will touch on later.

All of that being said, I have determined over the years that as a general rule, the regular-sized, regular-cab, gasoline-powered, eight-foot bed, half-ton pick-up truck is the choice for most average homesteaders.  Here’s why: for the amount of work that the truck is being asked to do, anything else is either going to be overtaxed or overkill.  The compact trucks just don’t have the capacity or power to do the things that will be asked of them on the average homestead, and the large trucks just aren’t worth the expense of buying and maintaining them.  The half-ton pick-up has been the mainstay of the family homestead since they first rolled off the assembly line and it remains the best for all around utility today.

This is assuming that the truck isn’t going to be used as a commuter vehicle or a family car.  That is a different scenario that needs to be taken into consideration on its own accord.  From an economy standpoint, I would advise not to try to have one vehicle do everything.  Have a four-cylinder tomato-can to go to work and get the kids to school, have a truck to do work on your homestead, like a mule.  This also assumes that whatever agricultural endeavors that go on are to support you and yours directly, if you are turning your place into a large scale farm, or working with large animals that require large trailers, then of course you will have to buy the appropriate truck to haul equipment from field to field.

Why gas over diesel?  Modern diesel technology is awesome, for its economy and its longevity.  The problem with it is weight.  A diesel truck weighs a lot more than its gasoline counterpart.  This has a tendency of showing itself at the worst times, like trying to get across the field to repair a fence only to realize that, even though it hasn’t rained for a week, there was a “soft spot” you didn’t know about, only to end up axle deep in mud.  While usually the gasoline truck just bounces over it, and if it does get stuck, doesn’t take too much to get it out.  The other thing with diesels is that, while they are great while they are running, they are expensive when they aren’t.  Repair parts for diesel engines are often twice that of a gasoline engine.

Now armed with this information, you need to ask yourself some questions before you start out on your search and be completely honest with yourself.  Those are the following:

What is my primary intended use for this vehicle?  Are you going to use this truck as your primary mode of transportation?

If so, you probably need to stick with a newer, smaller, fuel efficient, model.  If this is strictly going to be a “farm truck” then you still need to keep in mind reliability, because a tool that is broken doesn’t do much good.  That leads to the next question.

Are you going to be doing the maintenance and repair on the vehicle or will you be depending on outside sources, i.e. mechanics, garages, etc.?

If you can do your own maintenance and repair, or are willing to learn how, you are way ahead of the game.  I cannot stress enough that the simpler a vehicle is, the easier it is to maintain and repair.  All the gizmos are cool but remember you have to keep them going.  For the “Git er done!” factor, the plainer the truck is the happier you’ll be in the long run.  A word now on older trucks: an older reliable truck is fine.  The thing that you have to be careful about with them, is that they can become a money pit.  Remember this truck is only tool you need to buy when starting a homestead.  Don’t take on any “restoration” projects, if it doesn’t run, stop, and drive well, keep looking.

How much do I want to spend?

There are two schools of thought here.  Buy new and maintain it, or, buy used and replace it later with another used truck.  Strange thing, both strategies work.  If you have the means, buy new, and maintain it religiously.  If you don’t have a lot of money, don’t fret, there are a lot of good, reliable trucks out there with a lot of service life left in them.  $3,000 will get you a decent truck for farm use.  The rules for buying used cars really apply in this situation, if there is anything you don’t like, walk on to the next one.

There are other considerations of course, one is the choice between two-wheel and four-wheel drive.  I have followed this maxim on that for many years: Four wheel drive only gives you the courage to go places that you can REALLY get stuck.  That being said, if you live ten miles off of the blacktop, or in one of many other less-than-readily-accessible locations,  I would advise you to choose a truck with four-wheel drive.  Just remember, if you have never owned one, by having four-wheel drive, you double the amount of maintenance that is required on the driveline.   If you live a hundred yards off of the road or just think 4x4s are cool, go with the two-wheel drive and learn to avoid the soft spots, you’ll be happier in the long run.

Now, what makes a pick-up truck so versatile?  If you guessed the bed for hauling stuff, nope.  If you guessed the heavy bumpers for towing, wrong again.  What makes a pick-up truck so versatile is the tailgate.  You’ve got a workbench, a desk, a picnic table, a place to sit and talk, somewhere to doctor critters and sometimes even people, a step ladder, and many more uses, all in one package.

Welcome to Goat Roping, now go find you a Mule!


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